A Month in Japan.


Murphy VanBalen

A view of Tokyo, Japan from my personal perspective.

Japan- Tokyo! What an experience it was. From day one it was obvious that the Japanese culture was much different from America. The people were extremely polite and cared more about not being a bother to others than about their own personal needs.

Many of those with an interest in Japan know that those who are standing on an escalator stand to one side and those who need to walk up/down them go up/down the other. In New York this definitely would not fly! People made room for those who were in a hurry without fussing or being obnoxious. In Japan they understand respect – something Americans scoff at.

At that point, I couldn’t wait to see other ways in which this country, with nearly the population of Canada, and roughly the land mass of California, could improve the effectiveness of other social norms. Little did I know that this small act was one of a long line of things that Japan just does better than the United States.

Walking path at Yoyogi Park.

Walking through the Yoyogi Park I realized that we certainly have done a poor job of implementing nature into our cities. When I say park, I do not mean like Central Park in New York City but an actual park with lots of trees, greenery and animals. At 133 acres this park brings beauty to the city in a way Americans just can’t comprehend. It was absolutely shocking to walk from one city, through a beautiful slice of nature, then back into a city – it was gorgeous. The pictures do it even less justice, but it may give you the slightest insight into the beauty of Yoyogi park.

Sign that leads into Takeshita Street.

Along with the beautiful nature within the city limits, there are, to no surprise, many places to shop. One area that specifically blew my mind was Takeshita Street! From clothing, to anime, to food, this street had it all. It may have also held so much value for me because it was my first real experience without my Program Leaders! Within my friend group, we traveled through the famous street gazing at the たこやき (Takoyaki) stands, the many gift shops, the advertised animal cafes, and the プリクラ (purikura) booths. However, of all the shops within this narrow street, the Daiso (or the ¥100 store) was by far the best. While American dollar stores are less than amazing, these multi-story buildings were filled with quality goods for almost nothing. From snacks, to fans, to stationary, to cooking utensils, the Daiso had it all. This being something, I wish America could adopt.

Entrance for Attack on Titan Exhibit

As the days progressed on, my group began to explore farther and farther away from our home base. First Harajuku, then Shinjuku, then Akihabara, and finally ending in a 40-minute train ride to Roppongi Hills. We were determined to get to the Mori Art Museum Gallery featuring the Attack on Titan [FINAL] exhibition. As we made our way through the streets, it wasn’t hard to find the towering building that rose well above the others in the area. The exhibition just so happened to be on the 52nd floor of the seemingly endless skyscraper. I, personally, was terrified. I had never been in a building more than ten or fifteen floors, but for this exhibition I was willing to push aside that nervousness and venture up. And boy was it worth it! The walls were covered in original pieces of the manga and we were give the opportunity to hear the audio for the final episode. Crazy right! As we left, the museum exhibit also featured a cafe with themed foods and drinks. Though a little expensive, it was worth it.

Snack at Stationary Cafe in Harujuku.

While the places we visited were all fine and dandy, I’d like to spend some time discussing the difference in the food. Within America, fast food is seen as a quick thing that may not really be a ‘meal’. However, in Japan, McDonald’s, KFC, and Denny’s are actually good. After our first week in the country, we took a chance and ate at the local McDonald’s in Harujuku. I was pleasantly surprised to find the food hot, the service nice, and the taste accurate to the food group that was listed. I really wish that some of the restaurants here in the states would take as much consideration in preparation as those in Japan.

My time in Japan was not simply fun and games. Obviously, it was a difficult transition from the culture that I hold high here in the states. There were times that I felt that I was not enough. I felt that I wasn’t doing enough to get better in the language. Most of these issues occurred in the first week, but did continue throughout the entirety of the trip. We all feel a level of anxiety when we step outside our comfort zone, but sometimes that push makes the experience all that much better. By the point that I felt comfortable talking to people, not only peers and teachers, but the locals of the town that we were residing in, I felt that the language we were learning was starting to make sense. It was no longer a bundle of characters, but a set of words that I could decipher and put into action.

I hope that in the future I will have the opportunity to experience the culture of Japan for another time. I loved everything about the experience and I would highly suggest the location to anyone nervous to travel but open to ideas. While every element of the trip was different from the way we live here in the states, I never once felt unsafe. The subway is organized, the food is created with such detail, their are more than enough museums or exhibits to visit at a relatively low cost, and the people are respectful. Everyone in the country took the time to understand that we, as students, were trying and waited patiently for us to get our point across. For these reasons, I believe everyone with even the slightest interest in the culture should look for an opportunity to travel to Japan, or any country for that matter. It will change you for the better and open your eyes to a whole new world.

Murphy VanBalen